Microsoft Corp. released a report on Thursday, saying that the FBI secretly spies on its customers with so-called National Security Letters (NSL), warrants and court orders.
“Like others in the industry, we believe it is important for the public to have access to information about law enforcement access to customer data, particularly as customers are increasingly using technology to communicate and store private information,” said Microsoft.
The FBI has collected client information from services including Hotmail/Outlook.com, SkyDrive, Xbox LIVE, Microsoft Account, Messenger and Office 365, the Washington-based company said.
NSLs allowed the FBI to collect data such as subscriber information, phone numbers and e-mail addresses, websites visited and more – as the FBI deems “relevant” to an investigation.
This comes as Google Inc. announced on March 5, 2013 that the FBI spies on and monitors the private information of its clients, having already requested data from over 14,790 accounts in just the second half of 2012.
The revelations by the two tech giants mark the first time US companies have revealed that they submit client information to the FBI using NSLs.
Meanwhile, a federal judge declared earlier this month that NSLs are unconstitutional due to the harsh gag rules associated with them, giving US President Barack Obama’s administration 90 days to appeal the ruling.
Entities that receive NSLs are barred from disclosing precise numbers to the public or to targets. However, Microsoft and Google publicized a vague numerical range “to address concerns raised by the FBI, Justice Department and other agencies that releasing exact numbers might reveal information about investigations.”
Any FBI field office is allowed to issue an NSL, which has been used much more widely since 9/11 and requires far less oversight than a search warrant or subpoena.
In July 2012, National Security Agency whistleblower William Binney said that Washington was secretly gathering information “about virtually every US citizen in the country” in a “very dangerous process” that violates the privacy of Americans.